When I am feeling lonely, I sometimes visit a discussion forum called Yanks Down Under. It is a good place to exchange whinges about life as an expat with other folks who are experiencing similar frustrations. Mostly it is populated by women who are married to or in the process of marrying Aussie blokes and who are in a panic over the state of their visa applications and are seeking constant reassurance (editor’s note: several non-flattering comments about American women and Aussie blokes have been deleted from this document – suffice to say there is a strong argument to be made against compulsory voting.)
However, a topic arose in the discussion that has inspired a great deal of personal reflection. There is a black family from Alabama living in Melbourne (which isn’t especially relevant, but raises several other interesting observations that are beyond the scope of this essay). They are apparently suffering considerable anxiety stemming from the impending decision of whether to return to their homeland, where previously unnoticed episodes of insipid racism impinge upon the emotional well-being of their daughters, or to sink new roots into their adopted country, where the acceptance of multi-cultural living extends beyond mere tolerance into genuine appreciation. The wife seems to believe that much of her anxiety would be alleviated by obtaining the status and benefits of “permanent resident”, and this is what got me to thinking…
In some way, I find the label of “temporary resident” immensely liberating. It seems to free me from the worries and obligations of being a responsible participant in this society. I feel completely disengaged from the stress of everyday life, as if the consequences of my actions here don’t really count – not that anyone is counting. I feel exempt from the need to keep up with the typical measures of success. Because I know my time here may come to end at any moment, I am imbued with a sense of appreciation for details that often escape the notice of ordinary citizens. I am able to remained charmed by facets of daily life which others find tedious and tiresome. Going to work is not so much like commuting as it is an adventure in discovery. Grocery shopping is not an ordeal, but an entertaining opportunity to compare the nuances of tastes. My paycheck seems like a benevolent gift, not paltry compensation for my time and efforts.
Perhaps it is only because I am still caught up in the novelty of comparison between the familiar and the exotic. Maybe someday I will become bored and complacent, and soon after annoyed by the trivialities which now seem fascinating. However, I like to imagine that I have gained an understanding of the bigger picture – that in life, we are all truly “temporary residents”. Against this realization, I strive to cultivate these marvelous feelings of enthrallment with the mundane. I hope to be forever amazed by color of the evening sky, of the myriad shapes and patterns of the various life forms that surround me, of the small thrill of crossing a magnificent bridge over a beautiful safe harbour – to the exclusion of feeling overwhelmed by insignificant irritations…with the noteworthy exceptions of the dearth of quality Mexican food and noisy upstairs neighbours…and possibly the very existence of Britney Spears.